Soon children could be vaccinated with bacteria mixed in milk and people in the developing world given unprecedented access to immunisations under a scheme proposed by an Australian Nobel laureate, Barry Marshall.
Professor Marshall had won his Nobel Prize with his work on Helicobacter pylori when he helped show it to be the cause of stomach ulcers. He said various trains of the bacterium could be modified with DNA from pathogens and used as an oral delivery platform for vaccines that would be cheaper and more easily produced than injections.
His initial unpublished research was delivered at the World Vaccine Congress Asia in Singapore, where Professor Marshall presented positive results from a trial of five strains of the bacteria on patients in Perth.
He has shown that it is safe to use the bacteria in mouse and had made vaccines against whooping cough and cholera. Unlike laboratory-made vaccines, he argued, the modified Helicobacter could be shipped in small quantities to the developing world, where huge batches of vaccine could be brewed in a fermenter at a fraction of the cost of other immunizations and administered in a substance like milk without the need for a doctor or syringe. Professor Marshall, a clinical professor of microbiology at the University of Western Australia explained, “The Helicobacter strategy would be a little production plant with a fermenter and a power-plug and some water, and you brew up one million doses in a week or so. The most expensive part of a vaccination is probably the doctor and nurse and the refrigeration. If you move this towards a food product, you would not need that part.”
The success of a human trial at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital is seen as a major step towards revolutionising a multi-billion dollar global vaccine industry. Results from the trial of 30 patients, released at the fifth World Vaccine Congress Asia in Singapore, showed the strains had no ill effects on the stomach while still producing an immune response. “We can have a repertoire of strains, some which will stay in the body short term, maybe months, so can be good for things like seasonal flu, while others can stay in the body long term to protect against diseases like malaria. We know about half the people in the world carry Helicobacter without it causing any symptoms so we were always confident this approach was safe. The good thing is that nearly everyone we gave it to became 'infected' so the vaccination rate was very high,” Professor Marshall explained.
Dr Marshall and the privately owned company Ondek have already patented and genetically analysed the tweaked strains. Ondek was seeking approval for another round of clinical trials in which a flu virus gene would be attached to bacteria.
The technique could deliver insulin to people with diabetes or be used in immunotherapy vaccines for asthma he added. Vaccines could also be put in the drinking water of cattle to prevent foot and mouth disease.